As fans wait for the NHL and its players to bridge the gap and end the lockout, the Vancouver Canucks sit in the enviable position of having two of the league's best goaltenders currently on their roster.
Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider shared the William Jennings Trophy in 2010-11, with the lowest team goals-against in the league. Last year, Luongo faltered a bit while Schneider took a step forward. By the end of the playoffs, it looked like the starting job now belonged to the big redhead while the Olympic gold-medal winner would be headed for a new address.
A summer trade didn't come to pass, and when the NHL gets back underway, the Canucks will likely start the season with two familiar faces in net.
This could present problems for the Canucks on a number of levels. First off, after awarding Schneider with a three year contract worth $4 million a year, it seemed pretty clear that the team was expecting him to play a No. 1 role. At 26, Schneider is no longer a young prospect. He should be getting the opportunity to show what he can do.
Secondly, as the goalies' contracts currently stand, the Canucks have committed more than $9 million in net. Based on the pre-lockout numbers, the two goaltenders absorb 14 percent of Vancouver's cap space, which doesn't leave much wiggle-room on the rest of the roster.
Finally, after everything that has happened, how committed can Roberto Luongo be to a return to the Canucks? Surely, his return will create a distraction in the dressing room and cause tension with Schneider.
Right now, though, it looks like it just might work.
Luongo was in Vancouver for a poker tournament last weekend and was available to the media as part of his endorsement deal. Here's how he explained his current outlook to Jason Botchford of The Province:
At the end of the season, when I had my exit meetings, and in June during the draft, I didn’t really see the possibility of me maybe coming back. The more the summer went on and things developed, I could see there might be a chance I’d be back
That’s why I was different at the (Jake Milford Charity golf tournament).
All the things I said there, came from me. I got into August and I saw nothing had happened, and I’d maybe have to come back. You start to embrace certain things and wrap your head around certain things.
He told Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun that he's preparing as if he'll be starting the season back here in Vancouver and that he has hung onto his residence in town. For the most part, he's at his offseason home in South Florida.
Luongo continues to practice and is quoted as saying, "I have been skating three to four times a week, sometimes with the Panther guys and sometimes on my own with a few shooters where I can work on some drills."
When Luongo arrived in Vancouver back in 2006, he was an intense young man who wanted to carry the team on his shoulders. He played 76 games that first year and recorded a dazzling .921 save percentage, setting the standard for what fans would come to expect of him.
Even with the challenges surrounding budget and playing time, having two strong goalies could be beneficial to the Canucks if this season does get saved. A condensed schedule will likely mean an even more daunting travel agenda than usual, so splitting the workload could help relieve some of that extra pressure.
For his part, Cory Schneider's attitude remains unflappable. He indicated to the Vancouver Sun's Elliott Pap that with the cancellation of the November games, he'll take a look at playing in Switzerland—he's a citizen and could play as a non-import.
Once play resumes in Vancouver, there's every reason to think that Schneider will be on board with whatever situation he may face. He hasn't spoken directly about the prospect of Luongo remaining with the team, but has never been less than complimentary, like in this story from nhl.com from back in April.
Over the last year, and especially this summer, we've seen a more relaxed version of Luongo. Is it because he has stopped caring or because he has finally been able to release some of the pressure that has dogged him since he first became a Canuck?
The team and its fans will find out when the lockout finally comes to an end.
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